Twenty years after the closing of Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital, thoughts on Parkland, Florida.
By Stuart J. Moskovitz
In 1966, Chief Judge Bazelon of the D.C. Appellate Court reviewed a lower court decision where the judge had said, “My jurisdiction is limited to determining whether [the patient] has recovered his sanity. I don’t think I have a right to consider whether he is getting enough treatment.”
Chief Judge Bazelon stated, “Absent treatment, the hospital is transformed into a penitentiary where one could be held indefinitely for no convicted offense.”
He then went on to note that in 1964 Congress had passed the Hospitalization of the Mentally Ill Act which provides, in part, “A person hospitalized in a public hospital for a mental illness shall, during his hospitalization, be entitled to medical and psychiatric care and treatment.”
He defined that requisite care by saying, “According to leading experts ‘psychiatric care and treatment’ includes not only the contacts with psychiatrists but also activities and contacts with the hospital staff designed to cure or improve the patient.”
In 1975 the Supreme Court ruled in O’Connor v. Donaldson that a state cannot constitutionally confine a non-dangerous individual who is capable of surviving safely in freedom by themselves or with the help of willing and responsible family members or friends.
The case stands as a classic example of judicial action without regard to eventual consequences. It happens all of the time.
Eventually, like Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital, institutions in which challenged individuals were supposed to be getting treatment, but weren’t, closed. Along the way, many people who needed care were either released, often by court order, or never admitted. That put people abused by the Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital in even more dire straights.
Many people believe that the genesis of the serious homeless issue in America was not economic, not immigration, but the failure to address the serious issue of those individuals needing psychiatric care.
Many people unable to fend for themselves found their way permanently onto the streets.
While we have many cases requiring adequate psychiatric care, those cases resulted in less care, not more.
While the left argues that the unending string of mass murders requires that guns be removed from the people, and the right argues that we should arm everyone, including teachers, sales people, whatever, in order to present a bulwark against those who would improperly use weapons, what is most striking is that in virtually every case, the consistent factor is ignored by both sides. And so the carnage continues.
What we have in this country is a failure to recognize that there is a right to treatment. We need to recognize that this right to treatment must exist even against the will of the person needing that treatment. If a person is psychologically challenged, perhaps they are not the best person to decide if they need treatment.
We need to stop talking about guns. We need to recognize that you can’t drug depression and psychiatric imbalance out of existence. You cannot politicize it out of existence either. We need a national program establishing treatment of those who present as needing the treatment. In virtually every case of school shootings, mass murder, shopping center attacks, the underlying story is the person had previously presented as mentally unbalanced. The person needed care. The person needed treatment. The person needed not to be roaming freely in public without supervision or treatment.
Until we recognize the need to treat those who need treatment, the headlines will continue. They will cease when this society recognizes that the right to treatment protects the individuals and our society as a whole. Not incarceration. Not drugs. Not isolation. Not ignorance. Treatment.
It is long past time that the 1964 Hospitalization of the Mentally Ill Act was amended to deal with the climate and needs 54 years later.
Stuart J. Moskovitz, Esq, is a fomer mayor of Manalapan